Elections in any society are generally a complex process, and it is through this process that the nature of democratic values and the setup are determined. Balancing free and fair elections and ensuring the right to vote and informed decision-making poses challenges. If past electoral processes are anything to indicate, Bhutan seems to be undergoing similar challenges.

Article 24 of the Constitution establishes the Election Commission as a Constitutional Office primarily responsible for “preparing, maintaining, and updating voter rolls, scheduling elections, and conducting free and fair elections and referendums for Parliament, local governments, and national referendums.” Furthermore, the ECB has the role of providing supervision, direction, control, and oversight of the electoral process to ensure it is impartial and transparent. This is reiterated in the Election Act of Bhutan 2008.

The ECB Act grants authority, including voter registration system upgrades, ID issuance, election management, vote counting, and result declaration. The Commission may also conduct electoral research, refer offenders for prosecution, reschedule tainted elections, access government voter data, and enforce electoral laws. Nevertheless, these mandates explicitly confine the ECB’s mission to upholding electoral process integrity and fairness.

The powers vested in the Election Act serve to safeguard against government interference during elections. They empower the Commission to oversee and guarantee the adherence to proper electoral procedures, enhance election administration through data-driven approaches and best practices, and maintain the accuracy of voter lists. This underscores the specific focus of the ECB on ensuring the integrity of the electoral process, emphasizing its commitment solely to the promotion of a free and equitable process.

Article 1 of the Constitution gives Bhutanese citizens the right to freedom of speech, opinion, and expression, the right to information, the freedom of the press, radio, television, and other means of sharing information, including electronic media, and the right to vote. The freedom of information and expression enables political parties to share their manifestos and reach every voter with their policy agendas if elected. These rights are necessary for voters to make informed decisions.

Article 15 mandates that political parties prioritize national interests over other concerns. Parties must offer responsible governance choices rooted in the values, unity, and development for the public good, creating an ethical and legal imperative for parties to steer clear of vested interests while participating in elections.

The ECB must exercise caution and due diligence when issuing notifications or framing regulations aimed at ensuring free and fair elections. If regulations contravene people’s right to choose their government based on party manifestos, it could negatively impact free and fair elections. Manifestos reflect each party’s agenda, which is an outcome of the election, not the process, and voters can replace underperforming parties through elections every five years. The ECB should not judge the reasonableness of manifestos, as long as parties follow free and fair elections as manifesto is contract between the party and voters.

Further, informed voter decisions depend on the rights to information and press freedom. These rights allow parties to share manifestos with voters, enabling educated choices. Any ECB regulations restricting information access or manifesto sharing could hamper free and fair elections by limiting voters’ ability to make informed decisions.

While the ECB should utilize all tools to guarantee impartial elections, it must also recognize that overzealous regulations could unintentionally infringe on the very democratic principles underpinning free and fair elections. The ECB must strike an appropriate balance between process and outcome.



Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.